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After meeting Juniata alumni, Scott Kohmel in D.C. the previous year. I became very interested in joining the Foreign Service. Scott works for the U.S. State department and is the Vietnam desk. This is a four year job that he will soon leave to work at an embassy overseas. On his visit to Juniata he discussed how the State Department makes policy and how to write.
A very valuable piece of advice from Scott is that everything that happens in the State Department is based on writing. It is essential to improve your writing ability. The State Department looks for brevity, reading nothing over one double spaced page. Every sentence has to have a point, and it is best to write using as few as possible words. Professor of international politics, Emil Nagengast stated that in his experience students that couldn’t write well also did not read a lot. I am neutral on Professor Nagengast’s statement because I understand that reading does improve your writing syntax; however, struggling with grammar issues and spelling myself I do not believe that reading improves these issues.
As policy was described to me, I did not see much difference between it and some of the papers I write in my politics classes. To draft a policy you have to have an idea, research, and a valid argument that can be put into practice.
Another part of policy is conversation. Scott wanted to highlight that face to face communication is very important for creating a policy. You have to talk to someone in order establish and finalize a policy. This communication develops into negotiations, which are secretive in nature. Scott argues that negotiations should be secretive because the officials who make policy, especially policy with other nations need to be able to talk through the policy and come to a compromise. This compromise will not happen if the public and interest groups are watching and reacting to the negations. The negotiations are where the shaping of the policy is created and allowing these negotiations to be done in secret acts as a massive brain storm see if a win-win situation is achievable. It is important, however, to release the policy to the public in order to get public support. A policy is not very successful unless you have public support.
One thing that Scott stated that stuck with me that I am still trying to analysis is the statement “you cannot let your classes get in the way of your education.” I will leave you to think about that statement as well.
To hear more about Scott, check out this video.
As you may know, this past weekend was Juniata College’s Family / Homecoming Weekend! So many events were happening on campus: sporting events like football, volleyball, field hockey, and alumni rugby games; a performance of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels by Juniata’s theatre department on Friday and a performance by the Asphalt Orchestra on Saturday; activities like a market place, Club VLB, a class competition, and a book sale to celebrate Beeghly Library’s 50th anniversary; and alumni events like reunions, panels, and more.
On Friday, I attended the English Alumni Career Panel. The four alumni who sat on the panel were great. They were both insightful and friendly and I really enjoyed the hour-long panel and everything else that they had to say after it had formally ended. Later that night, the Juniata Activities Board did a great job of turning the lobby of the von Liebig Center for Science into a club. As an English POE, I usually just go into VLB to get coffee from Jitter’s, but I’m pretty sure that those strobe lights were not always there.
Saturday was a very nice day for a football game. It was a great game, even though we lost. Thanks to the book sale in Beeghly Library, I finally have a copy of The Scarlet Letter and also a third version of The Iliad. Having all the families on campus meant that a lot of parents were able to meet many of their student’s friends.
Prior to coming to Juniata, I noticed that everyone whom I talked to described the Juniata College community by saying “it’s like a family.” One notices that this holds true after a few weeks on campus. However, seeing alumni walk around Juniata, laughing, having a good time, and reminiscing about their time at Juniata is just further testament to the fact.
Firstly, let’s dispense with the term “entrepreneur.” It comes with a lot of baggage and expectations about starting a business. Instead of focusing on starting a business for the sake of starting a business, focus on whatever skill/service/idea that you have that you’re passionate about and good at. That’s what you ‘are.’ For me, it’s web design. I started a web design company called Taoti (www.taoti.com) out of my Juniata dorm room in 1996. But it’s not like I declared myself an entrepreneur and took it from there. I was—and still am—a web designer first and foremost. The ‘entrepreneur’ label that I’m often given seems to be more retroactive than anything. Back then, no one was calling me an entrepreneur. I was just “the kid in South building websites.” Anyway, my point is that your focus should be on what it is that you’re going to do—not on the ‘start my own business’ part of it. That part of it will come. That said, there are some things that can help it along. In no particular order, here are some things I’d tell anyone wanting to turn their passion into a business:
1. Make sure you have a viable idea/product.
Is someone else doing it? If not, why not? There’s usually a reason. It’s rare to have the kind of totally original idea that will be the next big thing, just because you thought of it and no one else did. (Don’t get me wrong—that can happen. And when it does and it’s a commercially viable idea, big things can happen. But the vast majority of new businesses are variations—if not near duplications—of existing business. And there’s nothing wrong with that.) Also, don’t believe them when they tell you there are no stupid ideas. There are definitely are stupid ideas. Make sure yours isn’t one of them. Try to find all the reasons NOT to pursue something. Only when you cannot find enough reasons not to do something you should you give it a go.
Don’t try to create the ‘ultimate anything’ out of the box. Focus on the one thing that you can really nail, and hone that for a while. Make that core thing a viable business before expanding your offering or trying to add in all sorts of bells and whistles to your product/service.
3. Wait tables.
Everyone should spend some time in the service industry to learn how to deal with the myriad of challenges that arise from serving customers. You’ll learn how to please and how attention to detail can make or break a customer’s experience. You’ll learn that customers are far from always being right, but that it doesn’t matter—they’re still the customer. You’ll come to appreciate being dependent on a supply chain (your cooks) and learning to take responsibility for them, even when their goofs are not your fault. You’ll learn efficiency and the price you pay for not being efficient.
4. Take real-world and applied courses.
It’s going to be a while before you can afford a full-time accountant (or even an outsourced book keeper.) So learn basic accounting: profit/loss statements, balance sheets, etc. Better yet, learn some actual accounting software that you’d actually use. Modern cloud-based services really simplify this sort of thing so that you really don’t need to be an accountant to be your own CTO for a while. Take some other real-world courses too! One of the great things about Juniata is that you can take just about any course you want and make it part of your POE. So learn how to build a website (because you won’t be able to afford a pro-grade website out of the gate, but it’s not hard to do yourself if you know how.) Learn basic IT skills so that you can set up your own email, network, wifi, printer, etc. Take some basic corporate law and HR courses so that even from the get-go, you have a grasp of potential liabilities. Take a course in corporate formation and understand how to become and stay compliant and in ‘good standing’ with local and federal governments. Whenever possible, take courses that focus on real-world and applied subject matter.
I’m not much of a reader, so my mom would be shocked that this one made my list. But two books that I think are really educational and motivational for anyone wanting to start their own business: Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacason) and ReWork (by Fried and Hansson). Seriously, read these books. There are plenty of other good reads, I’m sure. But these are the two at the top of my list.
This list could be 100 points long. There are so many tidbits that present-Brent would like to impart upon then-Brent. So many things I’ve learned along the way that would have made life easier. If you’re for real—you have an idea or product and you fully intend to make a real run at it, I’d love to chat with you. I’d be happy to offer up my $.02, for whatever they’re worth—to help make things a bit easier for you so that you don’t have to learn every lesson the hard way. Feel free to drop me a line. Either way, best of luck with your venture!
*Mike Thompson graduated from Juniata College in 2012 and earned a 2012 Teaching Fulbright in Taiwan. He will be continuing his studies at the University of Michigan this fall.
In 2009, after getting off the plane I had been trapped on for 16 hours, I think I realized for the first time how huge our planet was. I was on the first crew of Juniata students to travel to China during the summer, which has now broken into two successful trips every summer. After a whirlwind week of adventure in China, I was hooked and already planning my return.
I find myself in a similar place this year, having returned from a year spent in Jinmen, Taiwan on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant scholarship—I already can’t wait to go back! After returning from Taiwan this past year (a tough year of teaching, learning, and making great friends) I am moving on to pursue my MA in Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. I’m hoping eventually a Ph.D. is in my future, but it’s a long road, so I am doing my best to take my time!
I graduated from Juniata in the class of 2012, and of what little wisdom I have accrued, I would share about one of the best things Juniata did for me, and encourage you to take time to study abroad and study a language. No matter what your POE is focused on, the addition of language ability and foreign study is an invaluable addition to your future success.
During my year abroad in China, I traveled to Inner Mongolia, to the termination of the Great Wall, to a Lisu village on the Burmese border of Yunnan province and took intensive Chinese courses as well as coursework on Chinese topics ranging from sociology to political economy. Those courses formed the basis for my senior thesis and my whole senior year, in which I picked up a secondary emphasis in Economics. My travels reminded me that just like the United States, China has a diversity of linguistic, ethnic, and cultural groups, which I later wrote about in an independent study on political philosophy my senior year. A year abroad didn’t take away from my time at Juniata, but enriched it and drove me further my senior year.
Those experiences have been like keys for me: as soon as I began studying Chinese, it began to open doors to opportunities that were previously locked: my Fulbright grant and the funding I received for graduate study were possible because of my focus on Chinese language and culture in addition to my more POE central classes.
Most importantly, because of study abroad at Juniata and the foundation in Chinese I obtained there, I was able to build relationships across the Pacific, opening all of China and Taiwan to me for my job search, business and travel. This is the aspect that I want to emphasize to students: go. Make time in your schedule for a semester abroad: or better, a year. Connections you foster will be the keys to a successful, global future.